Critics are divided over A Ghost Story’s pie scene.

“Heartbreaking!” “Interminable!” What Film Critics Are Saying About 2017’s Most Divisive Scene.

“Heartbreaking!” “Interminable!” What Film Critics Are Saying About 2017’s Most Divisive Scene.

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
July 10 2017 6:00 AM

Here’s What Critics Are Saying About A Ghost Story’s Already Infamous Pie Scene

Rooney Mara, seen here pie-less, in A Ghost Story.
Rooney Mara, seen here pie-less, in A Ghost Story.

Andrew Droz Palermo

This post contains spoilers for the pie scene in A Ghost Story.

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a haunting (no, seriously) meditation on the nature of death, memory, and time. But all anyone seems to want to talk about after leaving the theater is that pie scene. Rooney Mara’s character, grieving the death of her lover (Casey Affleck), returns home to find a pie left in her kitchen by a sympathetic friend or neighbor. As the bedsheet-clad ghost of her beloved looks on, Mara’s character, known only as M, unwraps the pie, sinks to the kitchen floor, and devours almost the entire thing in a five-minute, uninterrupted sequence before suddenly dashing to a nearby bathroom to throw up.

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It’s a scene that’s either fascinating, heartbreaking, or deadly boring, depending on who you ask. Director Lowery has called it the proudest of his career, and it will surely go down as one of the most memorable pie-related moments ever committed to film, right alongside those in American Pie and The Help. But critics tasked with evaluating its cinematic merits are torn, disagreeing on everything from Lowery’s motivation for including it to what to make of Mara’s unusual pie-eating technique, which involves a lot of jabbing with a fork. (She later admitted that the pie in the scene—a sugar-free, vegan chocolate-pudding pie—was the first she had ever tried.)

We’ve rounded up reviewers’ widely divergent assessments of the scene, below.

It’s brilliant.

Brian Truitt, USA Today:

There’s a several-minute sequence that’s just Mara tearfully eating a chocolate-pudding pie that’s brutal, fascinating and wholly heartbreaking.
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It’s boring.

Melissa Anderson, Village Voice:

The C specter returns to the compact Texas ranch house he shared with M, watching his beloved consume a chocolate pie, a real-time episode of emotional eating (and emesis) that’s not much more than a misguided salute to Chantal Akerman’s masterwork of mundanity Jeanne Dielman.

It’s gross.

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Sara Stewart, New York Post:

It goes on so long it makes you slightly queasy—drawing us into the visceral nature of grief, I guess. But it also just feels like an endurance test for the tiny Mara.

It’s a joke but in a good way.

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times:

It’s not the only example of the film’s deadpan-prankster sensibility, as if Lowery and his two leads were trying to keep their experiment from becoming too lugubrious. One startling scene, in which Mara stress-eats an entire pie in one take, is like an Ingmar Bergman meltdown and a Béla Tarr parody rolled into one.
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It’s a joke but in a bad way.

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly:

Rather than convey any real emotions, though, this Method eating scene goes on for so long that it starts to feel like a bad joke—worse, a bad joke that doesn’t know when to wrap up.

It conveys … some kind of emotion.

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Chris Plante, The Verge:

The first thing you will hear about A Ghost Story, director David Lowery’s indie follow-up to last year’s Pete’s Dragon reboot, is that Rooney Mara spends five minutes comfort-eating a pie.

Matt Singer, ScreenCrush:

In a sequence that will surely go down in history as some of the greatest long takes ever, Mara rage-eats almost an entire vegan chocolate pie on camera.
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Kyle Buchanan, Vulture:

She finds a pie in the kitchen left by a well-meaning friend, retrieves a fork, and stress-eats nearly the entire pie in two long shots—one where she’s standing, and one where she’s slumped on the floor—that total about five minutes.

Mara’s performance is excellent.

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out:

Mara excels during these scenes, especially during one breathless five-minute-long take in which she sits alone on the floor of her kitchen and gobbles down an entire pie left by a consoling friend. A Ghost Story often feels like a invasion of her privacy, and the intimacy speaks volumes about the way life goes on, even in extremis.

Mara’s performance is hackneyed.

Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger:

It plays like the worst kind of acting exercise—Eat like you’re grieving! Dance like you’re angry! Watch a movie like you’re interested!—and adds nothing to this film but time.

Mara is too good to be doing this, anyway.

Melissa Anderson, Village Voice:

That this episode of sugar-snacking is the most we see Mara do after C’s death makes me pray that the talented actress will take a break from movies set in the Lone Star State—the backdrop for Saints and Malick’s Song to Song, a movie that also underutilizes the performer—and agree to star only in projects that take place outside the region favored by these quasi-macho, quasi-mystical romantics.

Mara clearly does not know how to eat a pie.

Kyle Buchanan, Vulture:

Rooney attacks that pie like a cake person, engineering such unusual fork scoops (she stabs the pie at least four times before each bite) that I started to wonder whether the actress had even ever seen a pie before. We all do weird things when dealing with grief, but I was tickled by the fact that Mara’s bizarre pie-eating method still managed to leave the crust mostly intact.

The only thing reviewers can agree on about the scene? It never seems to end.

Chris Plante, The Verge:

... interminable ...

A. O. Scott, New York Times:

... feels like an eternity ...

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

... a scene that seems to last forever ...

Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger:

... excruciating ...